History Is Misremembered by Left and Right
Contemporary Jewish discourse is full of nostalgia for the glorious, not-so-distant past. Reading through newspapers or listening to speeches at conferences and public gatherings, one hears a consistent message: that all our troubles would be resolved if we could miraculously return to the good old days.
Interestingly, the current wave of severe historical schizophrenia is coming from a few different directions simultaneously. Both the Left and the “Traditionalists,” or the ultra-Orthodox, have been actively engaged in rewriting and inventing history to suit their respective ideologies.
The Left is claiming that an almost perfect society existed in Israel only 40 years ago. It was a land where human rights were respected, the rule of law was set in stone, wealth was equally distributed and minorities were given fair treatment.
To understand the absurdity of these claims, one needs only to remember the events of the decades preceding and following Israel’s independence. If displacement of the Arab population (whether forceful or not); the subsequent military rule of the Arab towns and villages; the treatment of far-Right and -Left parties in the early years of the state, and the surveillance and monitoring of various perceived hostile elements are not enough to dispel the myth, then one is simply not interested in facts. Israel is a world leader in humane, representative government today — despite what the Left says. There’s still a lot to be desired in the country’s advancement, but to falsify the trajectory of our progress is intellectually dishonest.
The ultra-Orthodox, meanwhile, yearn for the days of shtetl life. Those were idyllic centuries: the men were religious and the women were pious. And, of course, everyone spoke the holy language of Yiddish and listened to the Rebbe’s “bubbeh meises.”
The “old world” was a world of spiritual and physical equilibrium. Never mind the Khmelnitsky and Gaidamak massacres. Forget almost a century of constant persecution by the Tsarist Government, along with pogroms and child conscription.
There is nothing particularly wrong with being sentimental about the past. However, when the tapestry of real events is completely redone, what is known as Yiddishkeit becomes Yiddishlight.
Our history contains many instances of the past being rewritten and the personalities of historical figures being embellished post factum. Yet such intellectual acrobatics have typically been attempted as a conduit for a better or different future. Rarely has the goal been pure revanchism or the return to a non-existent utopia.
How do we fight this dangerous trend? When hearing about the rosy past, we should always remember that the “eternal wandering Jew” is not a result of his absolute virtue or tranquil surrounding. He was born out of harsh reality and suffering. A little love for him is very therapeutic, but a lot of it may put us back on a path where we’ll never reach the destination.